Thích Nhất Hạnh (born October 11, 1926) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist who now lives in France. Thích Nhất Hạnh joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, and studied Buddhism as a novitiate. Upon his ordination as a monk in 1949, he assumed the Dharma name Thích Nhất Hạnh. Thích is an honorary family name used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, meaning that they are part of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan. He is often considered the most influential living figure in the lineage of Lâm Tế Thiền, and perhaps also in Zen Buddhism as a whole.
In the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS) in Saigon. This grassroots relief organization rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools, established medical centers, and resettled families left homeless during the Vietnam War. He traveled to the U.S. to study at Princeton University, and later to lecture at Cornell University and Columbia University. His focus at the time was to urge the U.S. government to withdraw from Vietnam. He urged Martin Luther King, Jr. to publicly oppose the Vietnam War; King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in January 1967. He created the Order of Interbeing in 1966, establishing monastic and practice centers around the world. In 1973, the Vietnamese government denied Nhat Hanh permission to return to Vietnam and he went into exile in France. From 1976 to 1977 he led efforts to rescue Vietnamese boat people in the Gulf of Siam.
Nhất Hạnh has become an important influence in the development of Western Buddhism. His teachings and practices aim to appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds, intending to offer mindfulness practices for more Western sensibilities. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. He coined the term Engaged Buddhism in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. A long-term exile, he was given permission to make his first return trip to Vietnam in 2005 and has returned regularly since. He was awarded the Courage of Conscience award in 1991.
Nhất Hạnh has published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English. A journal for the Order of Interbeing, The Mindfulness Bell, is published quarterly which includes a Dharma talk by him. Nhat Hanh continues to be active in the peace movement, promoting non-violent solutions to conflict. He has also been featured in many films, including The Power of Forgiveness showcased at the Dawn Breakers International Film Festival.
Nhat Hanh’s approach has been to combine a variety of traditional Zen teachings with methods from Theravada Buddhism, insights from Mahayana Buddhism, and ideas from Western psychology—to offer a modern light on meditation practice. Hanh’s presentation of the Prajñāpāramitā in terms of “interbeing” has doctrinal antecedents in the Huayan school of thought, which “is often said to provide a philosophical foundation” for Zen.
Nhat Hanh has also been a leader in the Engaged Buddhism movement (he coined the term), promoting the individual’s active role in creating change. He cites the thirteenth-century Vietnamese King Trần Nhân Tông with the origination of the concept. Trần Nhân Tông abdicated his throne to become a monk, and founded the Vietnamese Buddhist school in the Bamboo Forest tradition.
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